On April 6, 2004, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts proclaimed that "Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam". More and more facts point to this statement to be absolutely true. The similarities between the no-win situation in Vietnam and the no-win situation of Iraq are becoming more and more apparent.
It was claimed since the 1958 use of American military advisors in Vietnam, until the buildup of over 500,000 American troops in Vietnam by 1968, that the purpose was to stop "international communism". The second war in Iraq was justified by the post 9/11 claim that this war was vital to stop "international terrorism". Yet facts failed to support either stated premise. In Vietnam, the country had been split in two as a result of a post WWII, antiFrench colonial rule insurgency, which started in 1946 with the Vietminh communist movement of Ho Chi Minh who despite his communist ideology, had been a longtime U.S. ally. During WWII for example, troops loyal to Ho Chi Minh had fought along the side of U.S. soldiers to defeat the Japanese invaders. It was expected by Ho Chi Minh that the U.S. would side with his proindependence forces, and pressure and support the French withdrawal from Vietnamese affairs. In Iraq, a similar colonial rule by post WWI British forces began in 1917, and continued until the 1958 revolution in Iraq that threw out British rule. Saddam Hussein was a great admirer of the 1952-54 revolution against British rule in Egypt, and the rise to power of Arab socialist leader, Gamel Adbel-Nasser. The Ba'th socialist movement of Iraq was strongly inspired by the antiBritish imperialist Egyptian Arab socialist movement. These movements in both Vietnam and Iraq were not connected to any international goals to expand communist or socialist rule throughout the world. In reality, it was only after U.S. opposition to the Vietminh movement that the Vietminh proindependence forces sought either communist aid from the Soviet Union or China. Similarly, since it was assumed that the U.S. probably supported the colonialist goals of longtime ally, Great Britain, so Arab socialist leaders first in Egypt and then in Iraq sought support with military and economic assistence from the Soviet Union at the height of Cold War tensions in the 1950's to 60's. Yet it was clear that neither the government of Vietnam or the governments of Arab states wanted the dominance of any superpower in their affairs, including the Soviets or the U.S., and of course the defeated colonial powers of France and Britain. Yet the false case was made by the U.S. that intervention in Vietnam was necessary to defeat "international communism", and with Iraq, the false claim that defeating Saddam Hussein's regime was made, with the false claim of defeating post 9/11 "international terrorism". In both periods a aura of hysteria and overreaction of American security concerns fueled a hysteria driven rather factual based policy towards both nations. In both cases it resulted in a no-win war with nationalist driven insurgent elements.
From a military warfare prospective, the battlefield insurgency wars of Vietnam and Iraq were lost because of similar military limitations of the American military to fight the war due the warfare rules of the conflicts as well as the nationalist driven nature of the insurgency forces themselves. In Vietnam, the Vietminh forces who later became NVA military and the Vietcong insurgents of South Vietnam were able to attack from North Vietnam and retreat to some safety to regroup in North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The U.S. attempted wide scale bombings in these nations, however without the ability to expand U.S. troops into a widescale invasion in these other nations, the ability to defeat the Vietnamese indepdence driven nationalists was limited. And with well over 500,000 American soldiers in South Vietnam by 1968, with no end in sight to the conflict, growing antiwar protests in the U.S., a huge expansion of the draft to provide an American military of several million men to occupy a number of Indochina nations was clearly out of the question. And added fears of drawing either the Soviet Union or China into support for North Vietnam and creating WWIII, further limited the groundrules for the American combat role in this war against Vietnamese nationalist elements. In Iraq, the insurgent forces are a similar nationalist movement, driven by Islamic fundamentalism as well as the sense of Arab nationalism that since the 1952-54 revolt against British rule has been a popular movement in the Arab world. And just like the Vietcong and NVA forces, these insurgent fighters are able to disappear across the borders into Syria, Jordan and Iran, although these efforts are covert and against any formal "knowledge" of these governments. However it is well known in Iran for example, of some organizations that raise funds to support these insurgent forces. In Iran for example, one organization has the goal of training and supporting a terrorist and insurgent force of one million fighters over time. And the U.S. is even farther from preventing the efforts to gain cooperation of Iran to restrict this organization's activities because of the dispute over the nuclear arms that Iran may attempt to soon seek. And while Iran has gained a great deal of new clout with so many proIraniaian politicians in the new Iraq government, it nonetheless looks the other way on insurgent training and support organizations to combat the American forces in Iraq.
In Vietnam the nationalists were driven by a sense that if they could not defeat America, "In our lifetime, then in my sons lifetime, or his sons lifetime". And entire culture of the ability to fight generational wars existed in Vietnam. By comparison, Americans had no stomach for such conflicts that could span generations. Americans wanted conflicts quickly concluded. Patience is not an American military virtue, but to the Vietnamese insurgents, patience was an important military equation in the eventual victory that could be secured with inferior military forces, but highly moltivated by nationalist sentiments of independence from colonial rule. In Iraq, the insurgents have not only a sense of Arab nationalism, that soon took roots after the beginnings of British rule in 1917 in the Arab world, but a sense of Islamic fundamentalism that tests the faith in Allah of the warrior who must encounter superior forces as a sign of his faith in Allah to protect him as a mighty warrior. Standing up to a weak opponent, by contrast, is proof of a lack of faith in Allah, and reason to question one's standing with Allah. America has militarily been able to defeat invading forces from Japan or Germany that invaded other nations, but has not been able to exert the strength to defeat nationalist forces in blunting wars of national independence. And in WWII, the fear of one million American dead in an occupational war in Japan, forced the decision from Harry Truman to use the atomic bomb to secure Japan's unconditional surrender. It was feared a long hand to hand combat war with Japan would be extremely difficult, and the "nuclear option" appeared the most viable to military planners. A variety of desperation tactics to quickly conclude the war with Japan were considered. Widespread use of mustard gas on Japanese civilians was considered, which would not kill all victims but leave millions of Japanese blind, with burnt skin and permanently seared lungs. But General Curtis LeMay, George Wallace's former Presidential running mate developed a similarly evil combat against civilians. But the widespread firebombings of the population of Tokyo where 100,000 civilians would die in a single evening of American firebombings of this densely packed city, failed to gain a Japanese surrender. It was only after Japanese military officials understood that only two atomic bombs dropped in Japan caused more than 100,000 killed and many more injured, that they decided not to attempt to withstand an expected U.S. invasion as islands close to Japan fell and became American military staging areas for aircraft attacks on the mainland of Japan. By comparison, unless America seeks to expand the war to neighboring states like Iran and Syria, then the ability for a "battlefield victory" in Iraq are limited. But the problem is that in the MidEast, a battlefield victory means nothing. The insurgents cannot match the U.S. in this hightech warfare of $1 million dollar cruise missiles and other weapons remotely guided from space by satellites. Instead, the insurgent victory is based on the Vietminh warfare rules of long and patient generational conflict. If Arab nationalist goals of independence can survive from the 1917 days of British colonial rule, then it is known that America has no will to fight generational war in Iraq. For this reason, while the Bush Administration publicly uses disinformation claims of Donald Rumsfeld that troops can soon come home from Iraq, there is in reality no desire to end American involvement in Iraq. And has included hundreds of millions of dollars of requests in the latest defense bills in Congress for permanent military base construction in Iraq. After 1968, a similar misleading "withdrawal" from Vietnam was undertaken by the U.S., where forces were also cut somewhat to deceive the public into believing the conflict was winding down, but instead more aerial warfare was substituted and the conflict dragged on to the 1973 "Peace With Honor" agreement with the North Vietnamese, that did not end the war, only allowed the the U.S. to leave the conflict in knowing defeat.
And in South Vietnam, a few years after the CIA efforts to destablize the government of Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem, resulted in 1963 a coup and murder of this leader, and eventually as American troops entered South Vietnam to support the government of the corrupt leader, Nguyen Van Thieu, America had a difficult effort to gain public support from the people of South Vietnam who largely disliked the unpopular Thieu government. In Iraq, the new government is already gaining resentment for not bettering the public in Iraq as living conditions deteriorate. There is now less food, water and electricity than in the worst days of U.N. sanctions and "oil for food" sales theft by Saddam's family to build new palaces or load funds into their personal bank accounts. And the Bush Adminstration was so limited in usable opposition leaders to Saddam Hussein it had to form a "Governing Council" comprised of some former CIA operatives as well undesirable elements such as Ahmed Chalabi, who was convicted in Jordan in the nation's worst bank fraud scandal, yet brought into this government. And the Secretary of the Iraqi Communist Party, an economist who opposed "market economic models" and supported a Cubalike approach to Iraq's economy was also strangely brought in to the "Governing Council" by the Bush Administration. And even more strange, a Hezbollah leader was also brought in, despite the fact that this very same organization regularly fires terrorist rockets into Israel from Lebanon. And just like South Vietnam, Iraq has an unpopular government that does not gain public respect. And criminal figures like Chabali still hold major power in this government despite the fact that he's a convicted fugitive from justice from Jordan.
And just like the failed "Vietnamization" of the Vietnam War, in which conscripted South Vietnamese soldiers quickly ran from combat and refused to fight, leaving most serious combat and combat deaths to the America soldiers, Iraq has a similar flaw. With such a high poverty rate and few paying jobs in Iraq, many men out of work sign up for the military or police not out of any desire to defend the country, but to simply get a paycheck. However,out of 147,000 claimed Iraqi Defense Force soldiers, only about 25% are deemed to be "combat ready". And while some patriotic young college students and others will sign up, hoping it will fuel a quicker U.S. exit from Iraq, most Iraqi soldiers are completely undisciplined and sometimes walk away from basic trainging unless allowed to smoke during training by U.S. military advisors. And in combat, it becomes even worse, sometimes in a protracted firefight, only the American military advisor and a handful of Iraqi soldiers will not run from combat after a few hours of insurgent fighting. Just like Vietnam's failed "Vietnamization" of combat duties, the Iraqi experiment with the "Iraqi Defense Force" is so far a grossly failed experiment. American soldiers will bear the brunt of all major combat and combat deaths in Iraq, exactly like the experience in Vietnam.
This Memorial Day weekend deserves to be a period of prayerful thanks to so many lost in combat to defend America. And the heart breaks at so many young men and women lost. Our extended family has paid a high cost in blood and lives over the wars from WWII on. And I have great respect for our military. They go to war without question where the politicians send them. But that's exactly the problem. Both Vietnam and Iraq are similar no-win wars against homegrown insurgent forces. And both conflicts are so similar on so many levels that the chance of a good outcome in Iraq is probably no better than the failure in Vietnam. Our military deserves great respect. But politicians never seem to learn discretion which wars to involve America in, and the factors that make a positive outcome for the U.S. effort impossible. Vietnam and Iraq are unfortunately two sides to the same bad coin.